About Open Pedagogy

The idea of “open” in higher education confuses many, partly due to the varied terms thrown around – OERs, MOOCs, open education – but mainly due to the assumption that “OERs” (open educational resources) and “open pedagogy” are the same thing.

Open educational resources (OERs) are the texts, quizzes, maps, blogs, videos, podcasts, websites, or articles that you, the instructor, share with your students to engage with in order to learn more about a specific subject that are free (open) to reuse, remix, retain, revise, and redistribute. These are the learning materials someone created for students to freely use. This is pretty straightforward, and there are many repositories and websites that you can use to find OERs.

Using OERs in a class is great. It saves the students money, it allows students to be fully prepared for class on the first day, and OERs can be tailored to meet the specific learning outcomes you want your students to attain. However, the use of OERs is not the same thing as open pedagogy. You can print copies of chapters of OER textbooks, hand the chapters out in class for your students to read, have them write a response and submit it to you for grading, and call it a day – this is not open pedagogy. There is nothing wrong with this type of assignment, it just cannot be classified as open pedagogy because the students are engaging with the material in a closed setting and creating a “disposable assignment” which will be graded and returned to the student for filing or discarding.

Therefore, the use of OERs does not guarantee open pedagogy.

What is open pedagogy? The librarians at the University of Texas Arlington have a great starter definition:

Open pedagogy is the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. It’s a form of experiential learning in which students demonstrate understanding through the act of creation.” (UTA Libraries)

“Sharing” is missing from this definition. In open pedagogy students create content and somehow share it with someone other than a “submit” button in a learning management system.

So, in the previous example, if the students read the OER chapter that was handed out to them and then made a word cloud out of the key concepts they uncovered in the chapter and shared that word cloud on Twitter, that would be an example of open pedagogy. The students in this second example are creating and sharing content.

To further confuse the issue, however, open pedagogy can take place with propriety materials. In other words, you do not have to use OERs to engage in open pedagogy. As long as your students cite their sources properly and give credit where credit is due you can develop an open pedagogy project utilizing copyrighted materials.

Not everyone agrees that open pedagogy can happen with proprietary materials, but here are two examples that prove it is true:

The first example, an open pedagogy project I have done with one of my online classes, is the “Teach with Wikipedia” project. This is a great project in which students edit or create Wikipedia articles. Students contribute, and their work is live on the internet – it is empowering for the students! However, while the platform is open the sources the students (and all Wikipedia contributors) use a mix of open, or public domain, sources and copyrighted sources.

A second, somewhat similar example is a peer review project I’ve done several times in my classes. The students write essays citing their sources (including their textbook publisher) and post the essays in an open Google Drive folder. I have them use code numbers instead of their names to encourage honest, robust feedback, and I put all the feedback in a Google Sheet so that the students can compare how they scored an essay to how other students scored the same essay. The students benefit from viewing all the feedback on all the essays; they also see my feedback on all the essays as I consistently use the code 9999 so they know it’s me. My point here, however, is that this is truly an open pedagogy project even though it does not rely fully on OERs. Google is open and free, and the students could seek out OERs or public domain content if they wish (I teach history, by the way, so older publications, in most cases, would be fine), but they generally use their textbooks as a starting point and cite them properly.

OERs and open pedagogy are both good things, but they are not the same thing.

The most important thing is that you are creating assignments that are centered on the learning outcomes. A very close second most important thing is that the students can access the learning materials you require – whether they are OERs, low-cost publisher materials (I use Norton a lot), or accessible library articles and books. An additional important thing is that you give the students an opportunity to take some ownership over their learning by creating shareable content for their peers.


Teach with Wikipedia

Twitter – open pedagogy

UTA Libraries

Image from Slideshare


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